It’s that time of year again when fall is in the air, the leaves are starting to change color and we begin to think about the holidays–beginning with Halloween. Although Halloween has its beginnings in ancient days, and did not originate in the United States, it continues to be the second biggest holiday in the country exceeded only by Christmas in terms of decorations and sales. In the United States, Halloween usually brings to mind images of pumpkins and scary decorations, little trick-or-treaters going door to door collecting a seemingly endless supply of candy, and people of all ages dressing up for costume parties. Some may not know that many other countries in the world also celebrate some form of Halloween. Although many of the Halloween traditions are similar, each country has its own unique way of celebrating this popular holiday.
Here are some interesting Halloween Traditions Around the World.
Since Halloween is said to have started with the ancient Celts it is only fitting that Ireland still likes to celebrate Halloween in a big way. Halloween began as a celebration at the end of summer called Samhain, or “All Hallowtide”, a time when the dead would come back to visit the earth. The ancient druids would dress up as spirits and devils to disguise themselves in case they encountered the dead. This is most likely how the idea of dressing up and trick-or-treating came about. The Celts lit bonfires in memory of the dead and prayed that the sun would return to the earth after the winter months. Trick-or-treating and lighting bonfires is still practiced in Ireland today. One tradition that is strictly Irish is eating the Barnbrack cake, a fruitcake in which is hidden a ring, a coin, and a rag. The one who gets the rag has a doubtful financial future, whereas the coin is said to bring prosperity and the ring happiness and possibly romance. The traditional meal served on Halloween is a boiled potato, curly kale and raw onions. Coins are wrapped in baking paper and put into the potatoes for the children to find.
In Italy the dead are honored on All Saints Day and All Soul’s Day celebrated on November 1st and 2nd respectively. These have traditionally been important holidays, but in recent years celebrating All Hallows Eve on October 31st has also become quite popular. Children’s costume parties are commonly held during the day and special events for adults take place in the evening. Many Italian cities hold All Saint’s Eve walks–commonly referred to as urban trekking–to dungeons, castles and crypts. Another interesting tradition that takes place during this time of year is a cake made in the shape of a bean known as bean of the dead. Before a family leaves for church services, this cake is placed on the table along with other food. The doors are left open for the spirits to come in and have a feast.
In Spain, Mexico, and Latin America, where Catholicism is also prevalent, October 31st through November 2nd is a time period when the dead are honored. Halloween is known as El Dia de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead.” Church services are held during this time along with memorials and even parties and picnics at grave sites to remember loved ones who have died. Many people in Mexico make an alter in their home in honor of a loved one who has passed. Photographs and possessions are put on the altar along with scented candles, water and flowers. It is believed that the scent of the candles will guide the spirit home. Bread in the shape of caskets, skulls and crossbones are baked and eaten. In Spain, rather than an altar at home, they adorn the cemetery with food, flower, candles and clothing. It is the busiest day of the year for florists and most businesses are closed. Common foods are chestnuts, roasted sweet potato, almond cake and a special pastry called Hueso de Santos (Saint Bones,) made of egg, marzipan and sugar syrup.
In England, children carve faces into large beets and call their creations “punkies”. This is their version of jack o’ lanterns. Some households will even put candles in them to turn their turnips into lanterns that they hang on their gates to protect them from spirits. Children will go from house to house singing the “Punkie Night Song” and asking for money. In recent years, children have been wearing costumes and asking for candy instead of money. Not everyone has caught onto this new tradition and some households are rather confused as to what the kids are doing by getting all dressed up and asking for candy.
Although China may not be a place one normally associates with Halloween, this country, which is primarily Buddhist, also has its Halloween traditions. During the Halloween festival known as Teng Chieh, people put food and water next to photographs of deceased relatives. China also has bonfires to light the way so that spirits can return to the earth. Festival of the Hungry Ghosts is another tradition which involves attempting to placate the spirits of those who may have died of unnatural causes, or were not given a proper burial. This involves offering food and gifts as well as special services in Buddhist temples.
The French regard Halloween as an American holiday. However, over the past 20 years it has gained popularity throughout the country. Many adults and children do dress up for Halloween, but the costumes can be quite graphic of scary. For the most part, no one trick or treats. They celebrate the holiday by going to parties at a restaurant or a friend’s house. Some businesses will decorate their establishments in Halloween décor as well. Quite a few bakeries will make special desserts that are Halloween themed.